THE SILVER CIGARETTE CASE
Mr Thomas Fairfax, a man of slight wealth and much leisure, called upon Mr Esdmonde De John at his rooms in Eaton Square, Belgravia and finding the latter at home and busy in his drawing room which was sometimes called the library and sometimes called the study, seated amongst a few Christmas decorations, he took the opportunity of wishing Esmonde a merry Christmas. Esmonde in turn sighed and slumped further into his chair.
Thomas was a tall, dark-haired young man with an air of affected aristocracy who wandered through life with little purpose or regret, ‘you know Esmonde’ said Thomas, ‘there’s a name for people like you, rarely used in polite society and frowned upon amongst the lower classes – a humbug!’ and Thomas drew closer to his friend.
‘Don’t mock me Thomas for I am in yuletide disarray!’ Esmonde said, his eyes looking up and directed at Thomas, filled with some perceivable heartache. Esmonde, a gentleman of similar wealth and appearance stood a little taller than Thomas and had about him an air of tragedy, a sort of melancholy that pervaded his persona.
‘Esmonde, dear boy, you look as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders; what is the matter?’ Thomas asked quite affectionately, putting a hand on Esmonde’s shoulder as if to feel the weight of the world for himself. Esmonde looked up into Thomas’ eyes like a small boy full of dejection, ‘Aunt Augusta has sent a letter to inform me that she will be joining me for Christmas after all as the Vicar has had an unfortunate accident in the bell tower and shall be spending Christmas, and no doubt several weeks, disposed in the infirmary!’
‘No doubt it shall do him the world of good Esmonde to be amongst his parishioners in suffering! A pity he could not join them in abject poverty or at least meet them half-way, that would teach him something real and useful!’ Thomas laughed.
‘Yes but now I am condemned to suffer under the auspicious gaze of Aunt Augusta who does not appreciate my bachelor ways.’
‘My dear Esmonde even I do not appreciate your bachelor ways and I am quite broad-minded! I think in some respect even you fail to fully appreciate them and put them to good use! Perhaps it is time you entered the sanctity of marriage?’ and Thomas peered upon the condemned man with loyal tenderness.
‘Good God Thomas, you sound like a missionary!’ Esmonde said with a look of shock upon his face that could give ecclesiastical circles a run for its money! ‘Besides’, he continued, ‘I have it on good authority that the state of matrimony is doing very well without my interference and it would completely upset my soft furnishings!’
‘Ah, the fairer sex does have a tendency for upsetting a gentleman’s orderly conduct and haberdashery!’ uttered Thomas, ‘and children of course have that propensity to destroy a man’s sanity with the charitable thought that fatherhood is the apex of manhood and the paternal instinct the very meaning of existence; as if it is our sole purpose and duty to leave the next generation in a better condition than the one that abandons it!’
‘I have little regard for the next generation, the previous or the present for that matter and even less regard for the molluscs that crawl across the surface of the earth and have no wish to add to its population!’ Esmonde said, grasping the spirit of Christmas as if it were a thorny rose.
‘Why you sentimental old fool, you do have a heart after all!’ Thomas said with a look of tenderness in his eyes which can only be established through years of friendship. Thomas continued, saying ‘far be it for me to speak ill of the dead Esmonde but surely you can put up with the old girl for one day, it is Christmas after all?’
‘Christmas be damned! She has requested to stay the night as her daughter Francesca who would usually wait upon her in festive drudgery is attending a Christmas Ball at the parents of the man she intends to marry, a nice fellow, but rather dull! I can see it now - the carols will resound throughout the household like an introit for the dead! The dinner bell shall toll like a death knell and there will be a slow march to the awaiting grave that is breakfast in the clear light of day! My epitaph shall read “here lies the mortal remains of Esmonde De John, confirmed bachelor, who succumbed to the devastating and destructive influence of old age”.’
Thomas chuckled, ‘and I shall produce a marvelous eulogy, at no cost. The cemetery is filled with similar good intentions I believe.’
‘And the church is filled with wickedness,’ retorted Esmonde, ‘but nothing so wicked as having to sit opposite Aunt Augusta for Christmas dinner; her teeth rise like half-submerged derelicts from the exposed sands littered with the wrecks and prison hulks of yesteryear and her lips cover them like the shifting dunes of time! They died an awfully long time ago, when
took the throne I am told!’ Victoria
‘Then it’s high time she joined them! I have not had the pleasure of her company myself but I have it on good authority, actually Reverend Baldwin, that she has a fine complexion, not unlike cheese. Take comfort Esmonde that she will depart from this world at some point in the not too distant future one hopes and leave her spoils to her favourite Nephew, no doubt!’
‘Yes, and probably on the condition that I produce a family to order!’ and Esmonde winced.
‘Tricky! Thankfully I do not believe in miracles. Have you ever really been in love Esmonde, I mean all that surrendering of the spirit and two hearts as one sort of tosh? I hear it does wonders for the soul and for filling tedious idle hours which would otherwise be spent in fascinating manly pursuits.’
‘I was in love once, Thomas’, Esmonde confessed as if it were some sinful crime, ‘it was during the bloom of my youth and she was the most stunning creature that ever dreamed by night and walked by day, or perhaps I should say dreamed by day and walked by night as she was of a nocturnal beauty; her mind was piercingly fierce of intellect and her eyes were of a vaporous moonlight, the pure feminine, a goddess in stature who stood between worlds, that of the living and that of the dead; the most exceptional woman I ever met and ever will meet!’
‘And you let her go?’ Thomas said abruptly.
‘It was an inevitable catastrophe! She haunts my every thought and lingers in my dreams. I pour my love upon her from afar as if she were an altar of devotion and shall do till my dying breath on earth. I was a fool, an absolute fool to my shame!’ Esmonde bowed his head as if seemingly before that altar of his desire.
‘Well there is no use dwelling on the past old boy and what could have been; “might have beens” won’t cut any ice with Aunt Augusta you know!’ Thomas said in an attempt at sympathy. Esmonde looked off into the distance remembering things as they were between him and his lost love or inventing them in a new light of imagination and some moments elapsed until the silence was broken by Simpkins, Esmonde’s valet and general manservant entering the drawing room.
‘Excuse me sir, but I have taken the liberty of unpacking a case of sherry as your Aunt is so fond of it! Oh and I have disposed of that matter to which we are not supposed to talk about sir.’
‘I’m sure I don’t know to what you are referring to Simpkins but thank you anyway. That will be all for tonight, and merry Christmas to you!’
‘Yes merry Christmas!’ echoed Thomas, adding, ‘I say, he’s the very Sphinx isn’t he?’
‘I couldn’t do without him!’ whispered Esmonde, ‘he sweeps all my desires under the carpet until there is no trace of them! Everyone should have a Simpkins!’
Simpkins, a long-necked, reliable man in his forties left the room in his easy and distinctive manner; usually his head would enter a room peering round the door and the rest of him would appear several seconds later. He was a confident man not averse to covering certain misdemeanours of his master and employer, Mr. Esmonde De John; a man in receipt of much trust and favour in pasting over the socially embarrassing cracks that appear from time to time following his master’s excursions into unknown pastures of
Esmonde took his cigarette case from his pocket and offered it to Thomas, who took one and smiled, and then Thomas said, looking at the cigarette case: ‘I see you are still loath to part with this little treasure! See how close he clutches the abomination!’ Thomas mocked as Esmonde rolled the sparkling cigarette case in his hands.
‘There are so few cigarette cases in the hands of the recipients as most were pawned for hard cash Thomas and besides, it was a gift from Oscar to me and it has become a symbol of friendship – I could never part with it!’
‘Friendship indeed! You met him once or twice and consider yourself a life-long comrade of the condemned man!’ Thomas said as if scolding his friend.
‘Thomas you sound like a common shop girl! You know you are much mistaken and you are much like Oscar when you speak so ill of me for he was an inveterate snob also and I told him so, in jest of course, to his utter amusement.’
‘I know you did, it’s been trotted round every dinner and luncheon table ever since!’
‘You seem to doubt me Thomas.’ Esmonde said, hiding his upset.
‘On the contrary old boy I know the truth of the matter and have refrained from referring to it in society. Please do me the honour and haul it out once again just for me won’t you!’ Thomas put his hand on Esmonde’s hand with the touch of firm friendship.
‘You are rude Thomas and I shall do no such thing!’ Esmonde looked decidedly hurt by the remark.
‘I am sorry Esmonde, really I am, it’s just my way, I could never do anything to hurt you really. Please do relate the story once more.’ Pure love blazoned from Thomas’ eyes upon his friend, a love unspoken and eternal.
‘Oh very well, as you asked me so nicely. Well, I said he was an inveterate snob and Wilde, grasping at his jowls, thanked me and said he was much flattered by the observation and that the world revolves on flattery and coins of the realm and that he was rich in one and poor in the other!’
Thomas yawned; ‘I bet he never mentioned those stained sheets of the
and that horrid chamber-maid; it will
no doubt haunt him for the rest of his days – they were his undoing you know!’
Thomas chuckled. Savoy
‘Thomas, how could you be so heartless?’ Esmonde was decidedly perturbed.
‘Heartless nothing old chap! And fancy making that remark about the ugly boy, what was his name?’ Thomas rubbed his fingers together as if searching through an imaginary directory of ugly boys.
‘Walter Grainger.’ Answered Esmonde triumphantly.
‘Yes, that’s it, and not kissing him due to his peculiar ugliness! What a fool! It sealed his fate of course!’
‘Rot and you know it!’
‘Perhaps, was that the only time you met Wilde?’ Thomas inquired.
‘I’d rather not say.’ And Esmonde changed the subject. ‘Tell me Thomas, how is that book of yours coming along? Is it as indecent as its author pretends to be?’
‘Motets and Moon-Threads? Not so well but it’s to be expected; one cannot thrust a volume of poetry upon an unsuspecting public and expect a fair trial. The critic you know says what is on his mind and the artist says what is in his heart but the general public replies with what is in their bank accounts.’
‘There is a distinct lack in humanity to appreciate good poetry these days. When I am called to answer for my foibles Thomas I shall take Saint Peter aside and have the failing corrected!’
‘I have always suspected you of having fraudulent connections in the next world!’
‘You shouldn’t treat the matter so lightly you know Thomas, there are more things in heaven and hell… tell me, what is your opinion of death?’
‘Like honouring one’s debts it is to be avoided at all costs! You do surprise me Esmonde, for if I want a lecture upon immorality and spiritual affairs I go to my barber and if I want advice on all the riches heaven supposedly has in store for me I go to my tailor; likewise a sermon on the wickedness of fornication and the sins of the flesh is dispensed by my butcher – for business and financial management and salacious gossip I go to the Church!’
‘Then we are of a similar mind for I always go to my dentist for the dangers of democracy and political affairs of state to which he is privy! But seriously Thomas, what are your views on death?’ Esmonde gazed into Thomas’ eyes searchingly.
‘We exist and then we die, that is all, it is a bitter-sweet tragedy I know but there is no evidence to the contrary. Why are you so morbid this evening Esmonde?’
‘These dark nights of winter turn my mind to mortality and other dark thoughts I am afraid. I fear I am condemned to the obscurity of the grave; I have made no singular difference to the life of another living soul – I have been and ever shall be an unsatisfied and un-manifested afterthought and my life is not worth the skin I inhabit!’
Thomas put his hand on Esmonde’s shoulder, saying ‘such tragedy in twenty-seven years of existence! These thoughts are not peculiar to you alone you know, the essence of humanity is bathed in darkness.’
‘I can only speak for myself Thomas’, Esmonde said with a look of dejection on his face, ‘I am tired of the artificial and want something real to have and hold! I produce no sensation and provoke no emotion – I am already dead!’
Silence ensued and Thomas put his hand to Esmonde’s head and softly stroked his hair which seemed to pull Esmonde a little from his despair.
‘Aunt Augusta believes in spiritualism’, Esmonde said like a child, ‘you know all that table-rapping stuff and conversing with long dead entities such as Drake and Cromwell!’
‘If it were possible then why do we not hear from the likes of Judas, a much maligned man if I may say so, and Caligula and Genghis Khan? No doubt it shall come as some surprise to her when she looks death square in the teeth to find no celestial plane on which to play bridge or stand eye-ball to eye-ball with the great and the good! Have you ever seen a ghost Esmonde, you talk as if you are half converted yourself?’
‘I have a yearning towards such things but to say I have seen a ghost would be a lie, yet I might add, that the apparition of Aunt Augusta rising in the night like a spectre from the grave might have a similar effect upon the living!’
‘How perfectly frightful! You know Esmonde, I never could understand why you adore Christmas so much, or at least pretend to, you a complete pagan, and deplore New Year! Will you be attending mass this year?’
‘I would not miss it for the world! Those delightful choristers brighten up anyone’s Christmas mood especially after the Reverend keeps insisting on mentioning some fellow named Jesus which completely spoils the atmosphere of Christmas!’ Esmonde sneered.
‘I quite agree’ said Thomas, ‘there is much too much importance placed on this Jesus chap, I mean, what did he ever do in the name of Christmas? It’s not like he invented the bloomin’ thing! Did he distribute presents to the children who slept soundly in their beds at night while Lord and Lady Dillweather-something-or-other hurried the servants along – no he did not! It seems to me all he did do was to stop people having damned fun; look at what he did in the market place for God’s sake, completely ruined everyone’s day – what a dullard, a real dowdy sort of fellow and not someone you’d care to rub shoulders with. He must have been thoroughly dead to every sensation, except suffering, he was very good at that so we are told constantly, but did he ever have one, just one strong and sensuous emotion or express beauty in the form of flesh upon flesh? These are the high sensations of life Esmonde. But I forget, I’m preaching to the converted.’
‘You are a born philosopher Thomas and a barbarian to boot! If I were born with your immeasurable kindness I should think I could accomplish wonders, but as I was not I do not and therefore waste away in utter obscurity; please say you will stay for dinner.’
‘Ah and be a witness to the ritual slaughter of Christmas by Aunt Augusta! When is she supposed to arrive: the witching hour?’
‘At eight and she is always punctual! Please say you will stay Thomas and protect me from her infernal questioning. I shall be an absolute wreck before New Year hammers the final nail in the coffin. You haven’t made other arrangements have you?’
‘That depends on what gastronomic delight you have prepared.’
‘Lobster!’ Esmonde said as if it were some sacred word of the Ancient Order of Gentlemanly Layabouts, uttered in darkness before an altar of depravity.
‘What a thoroughly wicked life you lead!’ Thomas squealed, knitting his brows together at the thought of lobster, ‘speaking of lobster, how is your sister Clarissa?’
‘I do not know why you should force lobster and my sister Clarissa into the same sentence as if it were a cooking pot; you know perfectly well she is engaged to be married.’
‘Is that still going ahead? I thought it had all fallen through.’
‘And why shouldn’t it? My sister is perfectly respectable and will make an excellent wife to Rector Spotiswode.’
‘I have frequently found that country Rector’s wives have all the erotic allure of an old Saint and the patience of a tuppeny strumpet!’
‘Thankfully I have never been so rash or so extravagant as to spend so much as “tuppeny” on a strumpet, patient or otherwise and never will and your attempt at humour is as disagreeable as a cold shower on a wet weekend in
. Well, shall I set another place for
dinner? It will be no trouble.’ Esmonde pleaded with his friend. Hastings
‘Very well old boy, I shall stay in the name of friendship and in the line of duty to defend the good name of De John!’
‘You are a marvel Thomas!’
‘So I am frequently told. You know, I cannot say myself that I have experienced love; all that passion sort of thing, it seems to me that lust is an ever-present condition and usually unsatisfied. I tend to believe that madness is the outward manifestation of love. You know Esmonde, I have always had this strange affliction for nuns, all that restrained passion suppressed by the spiritual bindings of the church and the material barrier of the habit. To tap it and see that passion gush forth like oil upon water in every conceivable fleshly direction, splashing upon poor sinning me. No doubt it shall all come out in my autobiography – Touched by Raven and Rook!’
‘You’re speaking like a common Bishop! Pull yourself together old boy and if ever such an autobiography were to appear it would be avoided like the plague!’ Just then a bell rang.
‘Talking of the plague!’ Esmonde turned quite pale and said ‘into the lion’s den!’
‘Remember Androcles!’ Thomas said defiantly.
‘He didn’t have to contend with Aunt Augusta!’ Esmonde went into the hallway to receive his Aunt.
‘Good gracious Esmonde! Have you sunk so low that you must open your own front door?’ Chimed Aunt Augusta.
‘And merry Christmas to you too Aunt Augusta!’ Esmonde bellowed, stifling his laughter before continuing, ‘I have given Simpkins the night off, it is Christmas Day after all!’
‘Yes, yes’ waved Aunt Augusta. ‘You know Esmonde, I have always noticed in you a nasty streak of lavish generosity. Such liberties did not occur in my day!’
Aunt Augusta entered handing her coat, hat and gloves to Esmonde. ‘I suppose cook will be available or have you completely taken leave of your senses?’
‘Cook has prepared a most admirable dinner and I have sent her home to be with her family at Christmas.’
‘How very bohemian of you, I really don’t know where you get it from, it’s certainly not from your mother’s side. Are there any other wild Saturnalian surprises in store?’
‘Just one and he is waiting for us in the drawing room.’
Esmonde ushered in Aunt Augusta whose stern face seemed to whither away the Christmas cheer at an alarming pace and replace it with Christmas misery.
‘And who is this, the parlour maid I daresay?’ said Aunt Augusta under her breath before intoning, ‘Esmonde, who is your charming friend?’ and Aunt Augusta stretched out an arm in the general direction of Thomas.
‘Aunt Augusta may I introduce my dear friend Mr. Thomas Cyril Fairfax!’
‘Pleased to meet you Mr. Fairfax; and what is your profession?’
‘I am a poet Madam! Therefore I have no profession!’
‘Ah, an honest sloth, how delightful.’
‘May I get you a sherry Aunt?’ asked Esmonde.
‘Esmonde, you know I deplore strong drink! But one must be festive I suppose, perhaps a small one.’ Esmonde handed Aunt Augusta a glass of sherry which was very far from small and very near to full and they all sat by the fire.
Aunt Augusta noticed a book on the fireside table and picked it up and turned it around in her hands, ‘Pride and Prejudice. Esmonde, have you been reading this?’
‘Yes, it’s really rather good Aunt.’
‘Hmm, a lady may write novels, it is a harmless occupation, but it is most unbecoming of a gentleman to read them! I find it quite deplorable that a lady should reveal a woman’s intimate and genteel shortcomings which would otherwise remain one of life’s great mysteries!’ Aunt Augusta sniffed and dropped the novel as if it were contagious.
‘Esmonde tells me Madam’, Thomas said in an effort to change the subject, ‘that you are interested in spiritualism, how fascinating!’
‘Yes, do you know that I am on the most intimate and friendliest of terms with most of the deceased Kings of England? They are really quite charming, except for Henry VIII, he’s quite a bully you know! When my time comes and I am called to the veil it is more than likely that I shall be returning like Marley’s ghost to rattle my chains and haunt the family who think I am slightly mad you know?’
‘Well as you shall be in the business of haunting I must give you the name and address of my tax collector!’ chuckled Esmonde; Aunt Augusta ignored the remark.
‘Tell me Mr. Fairfax, are your parents still with us or are they in the afterlife?’ Aunt Augusta stared inquisitively into Thomas’ eyes.
‘Gladly still with us Madam on the side of the living but sadly not here with us. I am of Hampshire stock Madam and my father is in the business of agriculture.’
‘He means he’s a farmer’s son Aunt Augusta.’ That distinguished old lady turned her nose up and shrivelled intensely at the thought.
‘Nothing of the sort Esmonde, father is an exporter of agricultural implements and is highly respected in that field and made a sizable fortune from it!’
‘Farmers and their fields!’ sighed Aunt Augusta, ‘shall you be returning to that delightful county for New Year Mr. Fairfax or have you completely lost all sense of proportion and accustomed yourself, like Esmonde, to
‘I am a simple man of nature at heart Madam and therefore have become fully acclimatised to the whirl of
which I so enjoy and shall not be indulging New Year in Hampshire or any other
county for that matter. Speaking of New Year, Esmonde quite abhors New Year.’
Thomas looked at Esmonde with unfaltering love. London
Yes, and do you know why Mr. Fairfax?’ Aunt Augusta squeaked, looking down her nose.
‘Don’t believe a word of it Thomas!’ said Esmonde handing Aunt Augusta another sherry with a look of absolute fear on his face as if he were to be exposed of a crime.
‘Because’ continued Aunt Augusta in a tone of reverence, ‘he was found doing something quite unspeakable one New Year’s Eve with the house-boy!’
‘That’s a lie Aunt Augusta and you know it!’ Esmonde said defiantly.
‘I had it from the lips of your own dear mother Esmonde and I would hardly disbelieve my own sister now would I?’ There was a silence as Thomas looked at Esmonde and Esmonde glanced at Aunt Augusta who in turn was staring at Thomas. Esmonde nervously took his cigarette case from his pocket and put a cigarette to his lips.
‘Esmonde must you, you know I detest smoking and do not approve of it!’ declared Aunt Augusta, ‘you would not’ she continued, ‘do such a thing in church.’
‘That depends Madam’ said Thomas, ‘in theory – yes, in practice – no.’
‘Are you a church now Aunt Augusta?’ Esmonde asked sarcastically.
‘Don’t be impertinent!’ said that austere old lady taking another sherry for herself, ‘you may have acquired a smoky reputation which invariably occurs from some nefarious point of ignition but there is no need to fan the flames further by smoking!’
Esmonde glanced at Aunt Augusta and a chill surged through him as his attention was drawn to her atrocious teeth which rose like broken battlements in that valley of death which was her mouth; he returned the cigarette to the case, ‘and besides, continued Aunt Augusta, ‘that case has beastly attachments!’
‘It has nothing of the sort. It was given to me by a very dear friend, an artist; one might even go so far as to say a genius.’
‘That may be so but must he suffer for his art so literally and so publicly and offend society by so doing?’
‘Society can go hang!’ Esmonde said under his breath. Thomas chuckled.
‘You said something Esmonde?’
‘Merely that Society is everything! Thomas, you were telling me something of your interest in the church before Aunt Augusta arrived and how you admire those dutiful and poor sisters who work so tirelessly in their devotion.’
‘You are quite exceeding the realms of friendship dear Esmonde to speak of such personal spiritual aspirations which I spoke of in strictest confidence.’ Thomas handed Aunt Augusta another sherry.
‘You are quite right Mr Fairfax it is most unbecoming of Esmonde to bring the matter up. Are you married Mr Fairfax?’ Aunt Augusta asked.
‘Sadly no madam, I have not had the good fortune to find love.’
‘Good gracious! One does not marry for love Mr Fairfax; one marries for position and social standing. I absolutely detested my first husband Major Barclay, we never saw eye to eye on anything. He was stationed in
you know, until he had a
touch of sunstroke and went queer, putting several natives in the family way
before running off into the bush to do the only decent and honourable thing he
ever did in his entire life: he put his revolver to his head and shot himself!
Now my second husband, ah, Mr Wade, a good, kind man, poor Stephen… it was a
most unfortunate accident, he bent down to tie his shoelace in Sloan Square and
was kicked in the head by a horse, the cab man was most apologetic!’ India
‘Do they ever contact you, from the other side I mean?’ asked Thomas.
‘Good heavens no! The Major was never one to speak much in life, certainly not to me so I don’t see why he should suddenly become a chatterbox in death! Although I did hear from Stephen once, he told me that he didn’t mind me marrying again but I am hardly likely to try a third time! I find I am suited to widowhood, it has really made me!’
‘I must say you don’t paint an awfully pretty picture of marriage.’ Said Thomas with a smile, handing her another sherry, ‘if only I were twenty years younger Mr Fairfax I should attend to your peculiarities a little more carefully,’ Aunt Augusta said, smiling to reveal the sunken wrecks. ‘Forty years younger would not be stretching the imagination too far!’ Thomas thought to himself but politely said ‘Your Aunt Augusta Esmonde is a lady of impeccable taste and refinement!’
‘My dear Mr Fairfax, how very perceptive of you,’ returned Aunt Augusta, and so the conversation drifted into this and that corner of half-hearted attempts at prolonging humour and interest but in the face of such adversity as Aunt Augusta the barrage became a minor tirade of boredom and displeasure which eked itself out through dinner.
Aunt Augusta was decidedly unimpressed with the lobster but held her tongue on the matter and following two more glasses of sweet sherry she retired to her bed chamber for the night. Esmonde and Thomas sat up a while enjoying their brandy and cigarettes now that the old dispenser of gloom and disapproval had extinguished her eyes and found the world of sleep full of new opportunities for misery making.
‘I’m not sure I like the idea of your making love to My Aunt Augusta, Thomas, it is most distressing and thoroughly obscene.’
Thomas agreed to stay the night also as it was late and carriages would be difficult to be had and he was as much averse to walking as he was hard work, so he took up space on a sofa and made himself comfortable before falling into a chain of nightmares all of which featured the terrible sight of Aunt Augusta’s teeth.
The next morning, having woken quite late, Esmonde knocked on Aunt Augusta’s door to inform her that breakfast would be prepared shortly. Receiving no answer Esmonde slowly and cautiously entered the room and to his utter astonishment there was no sight or sound of Aunt Augusta; in fact, her bed had not been slept in. He scanned the room and worked by a process of elimination and made a search for her handbag for Aunt Augusta was rarely far away from her handbag and failing that he looked for her gown and then in turn looked for her gloves, hat and coat which were nowhere to be found and neither was the small and imperfectly formed body of Aunt Augusta or the rotten, broken tusks that rose from her gums and passed for teeth; in fact, she was nowhere to be seen in the house! Esmonde woke Thomas and told him his concerns and that Aunt
was not there and seemed as if she were never there at all. Where could she be?
Was she spirited away in the night? They both made a thorough search upstairs
and downstairs and not a thread of her was to be found. It was as if she had
never been there and further, not existed at all! Augusta
Esmonde discovered his cigarette case was missing – ‘I’ve been burgled Thomas’. A search for the item turned up nothing and the mystery deepened.
Thomas had to leave as he had already made arrangements that afternoon but he promised to return later that evening to comfort Esmonde who was beside himself with worry for his Aunt, and of course for the whereabouts of his cigarette case.
It was towards the evening that a letter arrived from his cousin, Miss Wade who informed him that on her return from the country she found that her mother, Esmonde’s Aunt Augusta, had sadly died sometime around the previous day, Christmas Day. But how could that have been when shortly after this time she arrived at the home of Esmonde in
Eaton Square, and attended dinner and
stayed the night? Miss Wade went on to say in the letter that Esmonde’s
cigarette case was found on her person when she died at home which she could
not account for. Esmonde was dumbfounded. How could it be? When he told Thomas
of the letter that distinguished young gentleman was equally perturbed and perplexed
and they both thought that perhaps some occult disturbance had been at play and
they both agreed to put it out of their minds and resigned themselves to never
talk about it again. Esmonde did not even ask for the return of the silver
cigarette case as it would now hold a most distressing significance. Whatever
had indeed occurred on that fateful Christmas Day it had a lasting and profound
effect upon the lives of Mr Esmonde De John and Mr Thomas Cyril Fairfax.